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Cold War Lunchtime Lecture - Cuban Missile Crisis: How close did Britain come to Armageddon

20 March 2020

The lecture will be held at 12.30pm on 20 March 2020 at the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford.

Nearly six decades have passed since the Cuban Missile crisis. American, British and Russian military historians and defence analysts are now able to give a more complete perspective of the crisis.

Bill Pyke will discuss how and why the crisis occurred, what preparations were in place in the U.K.’s top secret ‘War Book’, and what lessons can we take away from the experience. 

 Lunchtime Lecture - Cuban Missile Crisis

TALK OUTLINE

Arthur M. Schlesinger, a key presidential aid during President Kennedy’s administration described the Cuban missile Crisis of October 1962 as ‘the most dangerous moment in human history’. This comment was by no means an exaggeration. Over 13 days in late October 1962 the covert siting of offensive Soviet strategic missiles in Cuba led to an unprecedented Cold War confrontation that brought the world to the verge of nuclear war.

Between June and October of that year the Soviet Union shipped military equipment to Cuba that included jet bombers, strategic and tactical missiles including their nuclear warheads. In addition, over 40,000 Soviet military personnel travelled to Cuba dressed as so-called ‘civilian advisors’. All this took place in conditions of the deepest secrecy. However, ultimately U.S signals intelligence followed up by air reconnaissance over Cuba revealed the scale of operations and the ominous implications for American security.

But what did all this mean for Britain? What were the reactions of the prime minister Harold Macmillan and his defence chiefs to this deepening crisis? Britain had a formidable array of nuclear weapons: the national independent deterrent comprising the RAF’s V-force 140 jet bombers; the jointly controlled Anglo-American inventory of 60 intermediate-range Thor missiles; and, an undisclosed number of nuclear-armed aircraft that the USAF’s SAC based in England. Soviet leaders recognised that this nuclear arsenal was a direct threat to their homeland. Consequently, this also made the U.K. a priority target should the crisis have ever escalated.

This talk will focus on how and why the crisis occurred, what preparations were in place in the U.K.’s top secret ‘War Book’, and what lessons can we take away from the experience. Nearly six decades have passed since the Cuban Missile crisis. This has enabled American, British and Russian military historians and defence analysts to give a more complete perspective of the period.

LOCATION AND TIME

The lecture will be held at the Royal Force Museum, Cosford at 12.30pm on Friday 20 March 2020.

TICKETS

This lecture is free of charge however we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy:
Book Now

ABOUT BILL PYKE

Bill Pyke is an independent air power researcher who has focused on the role of the RAF in air intelligence and reconnaissance during the early years of the Cold War (1945-1960).

Bill completed an MA in Air Power Studies at the University of Birmingham in 2016 under the guidance of Air Commodore (retd.) Peter Gray.

Bill has subsequently published in the RAF’s Air Power Review and has previously given a lecture at RAF Cosford in March 2018 as part of the Cold War lunchtime lecture series on the role of MRAF Sir John Slessor in establishing Britain’s independent airborne nuclear deterrent. Bill previously had a 42-year career in the oil industry. He has always maintained a keen interest in the role of air power.

ABOUT THE RAF MUSEUM RESEARCH PROGRAMME

The Cold War Lunchtime Lectures at Cosford form part of the RAF Museum’s Research Programme for 2020. The full programme can be downloaded here

The 2020 programme consists of the evening Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies — held at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London — the Legacy of War Lunchtime Lectures and Battle of Britain Lunchtime Lecture — both held at our London site — and the Cold War Lunchtime Lectures — held at our Cosford site.

New to 2020 the Museum will also host evening seminars at the University of Wolverhampton and Lancaster University. 

In 2020 the Museum's research conference will examine The RAF in a World Transformed, 1945–49.

Please note that lectures are subject to change.


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